“ But I still believe that the unexamined life is not worth living…” (Balwin, 1954). Using case-study as a method, allows the researcher the opportunity to analyze an individual’s life in order to make generalizations to cases of the same type (Reinharz, 1992). In this case study, the author interviews a forty-one year woman to discover the pathways that led her to postpone motherhood.
Women, especially those who pursue professional careers in which graduate education is a requirement, delayed the age at which they may become a mother. The number of first time mothers aged 40 and older are rapidly increasing ( National Vital Statistics Report vol. 50, no. 5, February 12, 2002 ). This case study explores how one African American woman accounts for delaying motherhood.
Anna Cooke was born in 1962 and some of her earliest memories are playing mother to her dolls. As the oldest of two children, she often “mothered” her younger sister. Anna said that “mothering others was always an aspect of her relationship with others”.
Another one of Anna’s earliest memories was looking at wedding magazines and imagining her wedding. She daydreamed about wearing an elaborate white gown with a veil. Her children would be born after she got married. This illustrates how her family’s Christian religious values reinforced that motherhood was legitimized only in marriage. Thus one did not engage in sex before marriage because children should only be born in marital relationship.
Going to college interrupted her desire to get married and have children. She attended a Historically Black College with the goal of becoming a social worker. One of her freshman professors, encouraged her to consider earning a doctorate in sociology. Beginning second semester freshman year, she focused her entire attention on earning good grades to ensure acceptance into graduate school. For example, she did not pledge a sorority because her professor did not want the possibility of her grades declining.
Dreams of the Being the Perfect Mother Got in the Way
Anna’s Christian upbringing only allowed her to view sexuality and motherhood occurring within marriage. When she began to consider postponing marriage until after graduate school, she gave her self permission to have a sexual relationship with a man that she loved.
Anna did not date until she went to college. She was considered a “good girl” and a “good girls” should have their minds books and not on boys. She met her first boyfriend when she was a sophomore and he was senior at a nearby college. After dating for one year, they had sexual intercourse.
The outcome of her first sexual experience was getting pregnant. She could not imagine being a single parent—nor could she imagine marrying her boyfriend. Moreover, Anna could not imagine coming home to her parents pregnant. Her boyfriend was not ready to become a father so he supported her decision to have an abortion. Anna paid for her abortion from her work-study earnings since her boyfriend did not have any money.
During her sophomore year, a popular student in her class got pregnant by her equally popular boyfriend who was a basketball player. She watched her being shunned by her boyfriend who soon broke up with her. In addition her sorority sisters also shunned her as she went to class pregnant.
She was terrified telling her parents that she was pregnant and of having a child born outside of marriage. Anna’s father was born outside of marriage and he had a very difficult childhood because his father did not acknowledge him. Many of her friends who did not have a father present in their lives seemed to suffer from father-loss. She did not want to bring a child into the world that could also suffer from father-loss.
Anna images of motherhood was that women made many sacrifices for their children. It seemed as if being a mother could interfere with a woman having a satisfying personal and professional life. She felt that her mother’s life revolved around meeting the needs of her daughters and often not getting her needs met. Anna believe that if her mother did not have children she would have made different choices in her life.
Anna applied to several graduate schools and decided to pursue her doctorate at an ivy league university. Anna was the first one in her family to decide to earn a doctorate degree. The desire to finish her graduate education in five years required that she postpone marriage and children for a few more years. She felt that having a child in graduate school would impede her ability to graduate in a timely fashion.
Anna eventually began dating another graduate student. During the third year of that relationship, she became pregnant while taking birth control pills. Her boyfriend wanted to get married and to have the child because he was graduating in the spring and he had a prospective job in which he would earn enough to take care of a family.
Anna was terrified of leaving graduate school without completing her degree. She thought that becoming a wife and mother would interfere with finishing her doctorate especially since she would be living on the west coast. She could not imagine finishing a dissertation with an infant and communicating with her dissertation committee by telephone and by mail. Anna decided that she must abort this child and postpone getting married.
Anna’s boyfriend supported her decision to have an abortion although he disagreed with her. This time, the student health insurance paid for the abortion on campus. Her boyfriend stayed with her during the abortion and he took care of her as she recovered.. Their relationship survive the abortion and they maintained a long distance relationship until she completed her dissertation.
After graduate school, she completed a two-year postdoctoral and began her first professional job at a large health-related organization. During her first month on the job she discovered that she was pregnant again while using a diaphragm as a method of birth control. Anna was terrified of failing herself again especially since she had just started her first professional job.
Moreover, she began to realized that her relationship was not strong enough to parent a child with him. This time her boyfriend did not want to be a father and she was also ambivalent. They decided to have an abortion. Their relationship soon ended and Anna decided that she was never going to have children nor was she going to get married. She would focus all of her attention on meeting her professional goals.
Anna accepted a tenure track position at a state university. She decided to put her personal life on hold while she conducted research and wrote research papers to meet the requirements for tenure. After earning tenure, she began questioning her single-minded pursuit of her professional goals without focusing attention of her personal life goals.
In her late thirties, Anna began yearning to have a child but realized that she was not in the position to make that dream come true. She decided to marry the man that she had been in a long distance dating for many years. Anna realized that she might have postpone motherhood to long. She was now in her forties and it may be too late to become a mother.
Many professional women sacrifice becoming a mother and fulfilling their personal goals because they single-mindedly focus on attaining their professional goals during their optimal childbearing years. Anna believes that women have to plan to meet their personal goals just like they plan to meet their professional goals in order to balance their professional and personal lives.